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What is Halation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Halation refers to the spreading of light around bright areas in an image, typically a photograph. The term is also sometimes used in the context of movies and television. As a result of halation, the overall image has a blurred, ethereal quality. The phenomenon can very irksome to photographers when it is not desired, although some deliberately attempt to achieve it for a particular look. A number of things can be used to create accidental or intentional halation.

When halation is accidental and undesired, it usually happens when the photograph is taken. As the light-sensitive emulsion on photographic film is exposed, the light passes through the emulsion and then bounces back, creating a blurred halo around areas of particular brightness. Many film companies combat this by including an antihalation later in their film, to prevent this light scatter. When the film is processed, this layer is washed out so that the film will develop normally.

Some amateur photographers notice problems with halation when they have their film developed as a quickie lab, or when they use disposable cameras. Despite the temptation to blame the staff of the lab for the problem, the halation is actually caused by the film, and not by the staff. Other problems such as scratches or fogging of the film can safely be blamed on a photo lab, as these are indicators that the film was poorly handled as it was processed.

When a photographer wants to deliberately create halation, it is often done through tricks of lighting. It can also be accomplished in the darkroom, through particular handling of the film and developing paper. When halation is actually desired, the photographer can control the effect, creating a softened, blurred look which is often popular for photographs. Experimental photographers also play with halation. The deliberate introduction of halation to an image can often create quite a striking a memorable scene.

A film package will usually indicate whether or not the film has an antihalation layer, in the area with the film's general technical specifications. Photographers who want to explore the phenomenon can purchase film without this protective layer, although they may want to experiment with several different brands and compare them. Many film manufacturers make lines of film with and without this layer, since there is a popular demand for both styles. Photographers who have been struggling with halation, however, should obviously choose film which does include this layer.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Jun 06, 2012

I’m always thrilled when the halation effect shows up in my photos! I especially love it when this happens to photos of my dogs, because it gives the whole image a soft and special feel.

I took a photo of my Weimaraner standing alert in a field of wheat. The sun was about an hour from setting, so a golden light fell across everything.

When I saw the photo, an orange light had scattered throughout the wheat. Little rays were shining through it and onto my dogs fur. There was even a little halo in one corner with intense light.

It made the picture so much more special. I got the total feeling of the sunset and the beauty of the moment.

By Perdido — On Jun 05, 2012

I’ve seen lots of halation in summer photos. The humidity is so high in the air that it seems to take on a slight fog naturally, so when the camera catches this, the light mixes in such a way to cause a more dramatic washed out look than is actually present.

It can be annoying at times. I was once trying to take a photo of the inside of a living room, but the light coming through the windows made every photo looked faded. Also, the windows appeared to be sources of blinding white light, and even in the photo, it was hard to look at them.

Halation can be cool if it is intentional or if it happens when you take a photo of nature that doesn’t need to have plenty of detail. Otherwise, it is really disappointing.

By anon33091 — On Jun 01, 2009

Whether halation in film can be caused due to malfunction of camera or it is caused due to defect in film.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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